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How the owners of Z&Z manoushe bakery would spend a perfect day in D.C.

8 min

In D.C. Dream Day, we ask our favorite people in the area to tell us how they would spend a perfect day in the District.

Danny and Johnny Dubbaneh, the brothers behind buzzy Rockville manoushe bakery Z&Z, have always had an entrepreneurial spirit, starting businesses together over the years including a curated guide to date spots in D.C. and a furniture rental service at the University of Maryland.

“My first business that got me in trouble was when I used to sell my lunch to my friends at school because my mom would make us these great lunches,” Danny recalls. “Then I'd go get the free lunch at the cafeteria, but my mom found out and got super upset.”

In retrospect, Danny was laying the foundation for Z&Z, which brings their family’s food to the masses. Using their grandmother’s recipe as the base, Danny and Johnny have been selling manoushe — a Mediterranean flatbread (don’t call it pizza) topped with their signature za’atar seasoning, labneh, shawarma, veggies and more — at D.C.-area farmers markets since 2016.

The Dubbanehs grew up in Aspen Hill in a restaurant family; they have two sisters and another brother, Ronnie, who helps with strategy. Their dad owned a number of Chicken Basket restaurants in Maryland with his brothers, and their grandfather and an uncle opened Chicken Tonight in Rockville in the ’80s. In 2021, Danny, 34, and Johnny, 29, opened Z&Z’s first bakery in the same space that used to house Chicken Tonight — an extension of their family’s history, even if their parents weren’t always supportive of the business.

“They were against the idea because they experienced firsthand the struggles and challenges of working in the food industry,” Johnny says. (Though, as Danny notes, they’ve always pitched in to help.) “We're stubborn, and we wanted to share our culture and hospitality and try to make this an extension of who we are.”

There’s an approachable family vibe to Z&Z — Johnny manages their engaging, personality-driven social media presence — that helped them gain a cult following at the Central Farm Markets around town. You’ll also find their za’atar on the menus at Call Your Mother, Maydan and the Green Zone. “Everyone that comes by is like extended family,” Danny says.

Now they’re working on putting manoushe on the map. Last month, Z&Z was named one of Bon Appétit’s 50 best new restaurants; this month they started selling frozen versions of their manoushe at area Whole Foods stores.

“It’s the first of its kind in Whole Foods, and really any national grocery, so I think it’s quite iconic to see our culture represented in such a huge category in America,” Johnny says.

The Rockville High School graduates, who still live in Rockville, celebrate that culture and their home in their joint dream day.

Danny: I like to start my day with a cup of coffee and a book. I love to read outside in the morning. I was just reading a novel called “The Parisian” by Isabella Hammad. I generally alternate between literature and business books because I am self-educating. I spent the last five years trying to teach myself as much as possible with a lot of books and YouTube videos.

Johnny: I’m definitely going to the gym. It’s kind of my way to unwind. I go to Onelife Fitness in Rockville. It’s a way to really unwind. I enjoy working out, and it gives me time to be alone, which I don’t get a lot of.

After the gym, we head to the Bethesda Central Farm Market together. We spent about seven years there, made good friends and had a lot of good food there. We’ll drop by Yufka Bakery for some hand-stretched, phyllo-type savory and sweet pastries. One of the ones I really like is stuffed with bacon, egg and cheddar. Super delicious: crunchy on the outside and savory fillings. And then there’s also Cipolla Rossa Pizzeria, which does breakfast pizza. I know it’s the opposite of our ballgame, but it has a delicious crust topped with a fried egg, bacon and vegetables.

Danny: I’d definitely get coffee; Zeke’s is over there, and that’s a go-to. I get a black coffee just straight. And it has to be very hot — once it gets even slightly lukewarm, I lose interest. Johnny would probably make a chai tea at home before.

Johnny: One of our favorite activities is playing basketball. We would get our high school friends together and go to this little basketball court that we call the graveyard because there’s like a little graveyard of maybe 10 tombstones next to it. It’s on Muncaster Mill Road in Rockville. We’d always go play at night under the lights. It was kind of our own space. Nobody really knew about it but us, and we’d get mad when other people found out about it. It was one of the greatest activities of our high school days, and even after that we’d get together with friends and just play there.

Danny: After basketball, we’ll drive through College Park and visit our old alma mater. Then we’ll swing by this place that my brother-in-law put us on called Koite Grill on Colesville [Road]. They make the most amazing Senegalese charcoal chicken, grilled onions and then this rice. It’s probably the food I crave the most often. I like the smoky flavor and the simple pepper seasoning. It’s so juicy — I literally just eat it with my hands. Every time my brother-in-law comes, he usually brings some and we just devour it. Eat lunch, walk around, maybe reminisce on the old days and see how much we don’t even recognize the campus. Outside of the business school, we have a couple of stickers. One business we started when Johnny was in college was called Terpiture; we stuck it on a pole out there. We went back and added a Z&Z sticker next to it.

Johnny: We’ll split it up, and I’ll go to Glenstone museum. It’s a beautiful campus to take a stroll and look at any of the exhibits. It’s been a few years since I’ve been, but I love the architecture and the walking paths. I’m a sucker for foliage.

Danny: I’d meet my wife, Zerlina, and go for a nice long walk with our puppy, Bodie, who is named after a character on “The Wire,” on the Rock Creek Park Trail. I love walking in general. With the greenery and the water trickling and all the sounds and the sun — it’s my favorite way to relax.

Johnny: I head to Daru with my lady friend, Sarah, and get their lamb chops. I’ve been there before; they were on Bon Appétit’s list, too. I discovered them through our friends at the Green Zone, and they reached out to us to use our za’atar on their naan. I’ll do the Chai-Teani to drink.

Danny: My wife and I will go to Albi in Navy Yard. We’ll do the chef’s table at the hearth experience. My wife took me for my birthday there last year. You’re tasting new wine, you’re sitting right there in the kitchen, you can see everything happening, and they just keep bringing out plates and wine. They take really good care of you. I’m not even a big sweet person, but they served this labne soft-serve ice cream at the end of the meal that was phenomenal.

Then we’ll meet up for end-of-the-night cocktails at Green Zone. It’s such a cool cocktail bar with the same kind of environment that we’d like to create here with music and good drinks and the art and everything. We always see a lot of friends in the D.C. Arab community there. They make amazing cocktails, obviously, some of the best in the country, but I like the simple golden Arak. That’s what I like to finish my night with.

Johnny: Some of my friends that are in the burbs and never leave will come to the city — the only chance is on a dream day. I know it’s going to sound like we’re identical, but I’m also a simple guy and love the Arak. It’s got a licorice aftertaste and a smooth finish. They have a dance party upstairs, and I’m standing in the corner not dancing because I don’t dance.

Danny: I don’t dance either, unless I’ve had a lot of cocktails. But I might sneak across the street to Dan’s Cafe if I’m feeling young.